With a drum set and a laptop, Billings drummer Nick Miles is getting his clicks in on Saturday. Miles, who once again is calling Billings his home, is taking his first foray into public performance following his split from the Denver-based band The Photo Atlas.
“DJ Drum,” as he’s bid himself, will feature Miles on drums playing along to 40+ songs ranging from pop to rap to indie. From Eminem to MGMT, Notorious BIG to Warren G, The Faint to Ratatat remixes, Miles will improvise drum tracks to a slew of well-known pop songs, as well as some of his personal punk and indie favorites.
Miles’s first foray back to public performance is this DJ Drum set, something he describes as new and unique for him. “I’m having fun. This is my side project. The only problem is I don’t have my main project.”
Though the songs Miles will be performing to have existing drum tracks, he said he is not going to replicate the drum tracks.
“It’s going to be a three hour drum solo,” he said.
In the breaks between drum sets, Miles has a playlist of music that he enjoys, ranging from Rancid to Deaths From Above and These Arms are Snakes, to name a few.
“Stuff that I like listening to that is not necessarily pleasing to everyone’s ears,” Miles said. “I am trying to cater to everyone.”
Back in Billings, Miles said it’s nice to be in his hometown. “I have my family. I have friends. Honestly, the pace is so much slower here. I can regain my thoughts and take a step back and think about my life and what I want to do and focus on music.”
In regards to his former band, The Photo Atlas, Miles said, “I believe they have potential and I wish the best for them. I hope they continue to do what they have been doing, and on their own terms.”
Miles said his time in the Photo Atlas was the “the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had.” When the group’s drummer unexpectedly left the band mid-tour, Miles was connected with the group through a mutual acquaintance.
“I flew to Cleveland right after I got the phone call to finish the tour, and I stayed with the band for three years,” Miles recalled. In those three years, the band toured nearly 200 days a year.
The pace was tiring, the life was demanding, the pay was little, and Miles said after three years of investment, he felt it was time to move on. “I didn’t feel like it was my project, or my mission to continue fighting,” he said.
Miles is quick not to discount his time with The Photo Atlas, as he gained valuable first-hand knowledge of what it takes to make it in today’s music industry. “It’s tough,” he said. After Miles joined the band, their recorded label (Stolen Transmission Records, a subsidiary of Island Records) folded, and the band decided to continue without a label.
“We fired our booking agent, when through managers, and basically existed as a DIY indie band for three years,” Miles said. “That was the biggest learning experience of my life.”
Through the band’s experiences—both positive and negative—Miles’s understanding of the industry grew exponentially. “And my understand of the music industry is that it’s f***ed,” he said. “A person is better off tying to do things on their own, marketing their own products, and playing a show to create an income on their own, without worrying about middlemen and booking agents. All you have to do is put your mind to it and figure out how to do it yourself.”
Miles is willing to play the game, but would prefer to exist outside the system of major labels, booking agents and outside hands driving the music.
“It seems so often everyone is chasing…everyone wants to be the next big thing,” Miles said. “I think there is no next big thing. I want to hold onto my integrity no matter what I do in music. However, no one’s offering me a million dollars.”
The future is open for Miles, though he wants to front a band. “I’m tired of playing drums,” he said. “I’m tired of putting something into someone else’s project and someone else’s ideas. I have things I want to say.” Miles plays guitar, and has a foundation of music theory. He’s not sure of the direction and isn’t set on a certain type of music. “I’m going to start a band that is my passion. I am going to do whatever comes from the heart. I’m still young. I’m just trying to figure out my role.”
Catch DJ Drum from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Railyard on Saturday, March 19. DJs Aros and Alto will be spinning in the side room all night, and Miles will take the main stage.